Three Critical Ingredients for a Thriving Workplace Culture

Corporate culture can be a tricky thing to nail down in any workplace, but it’s often that the most successful companies are powered by the most vibrant cultures. Think about the encouragement of radical candor at Pixar when building an animated film, or the legacy of customer service at Disney amusement parks, or even the all-for-one brotherhood in professional basketball teams. But what makes these cultures tick? It’s more straightforward than you might think. Organizations can start to build the work environment they want to have by focusing on three of the eight levers of culture: vision and values, teamwork, and recognition.

1. Vision and values

Culture is largely about striving towards the ongoing demonstration of synchronized goal-achieving behaviors. Simply put, it’s getting more people to behave in the way that helps the organization reach its goals. Aligning on the organization’s vision and its values promote that synchronization. Building towards a phenomenal culture, first requires clear identification of the desired behaviors that align to shared values. 

For example, the desired behaviors of a team might reflect key values of the organization such as: accountability for work completed and the associated results, innovation in the allocation of resources, and maximization of effort towards the most valuable piece of work. Identifying the behaviors clearly and demonstrating how they link to a larger purpose provides team members a north star, orienting them to what success looks like. 

At the core of every company are people. Transforming, strengthening, or building a culture revolves around how employees interact with their company, work, colleagues, and even their office environment. It all starts with the authentic connection employees feel to the work that they are doing—the connection they feel to their organization’s values and vision. Research indicates that it’s critically important for people to feel a sense of purpose. In fact, productivity soars when a larger story is told about how the individual’s work drives a larger goal. At the most successful firms, the company’s vision and values resonate with their employees. Think about your employees’ connection to your organization– what brought them to your company or your team to begin with? How can you infuse meaning into their day-to-day work? Is there a larger story to be told about how your employees work drives an impact beyond the company bottom-line?

2. Teamwork

Even employees who have a strong shared vision and values can find that their connection to their team is lacking. This detachment is easily reversed through the purposeful delivery of belonging cues that promote team cohesiveness. These minor social clues demonstrate to the entire team that they are psychologically safe, able to take risks without social repercussions, and that there is a joint future that they are part of achieving. Because humans are evolutionarily social creatures, building strong sense of belonging to the team should not be overlooked. 

When employees feel that they belong to a team, they are more willing to collaborate and produce high quality output with that team. 

Characteristics of belonging that strengthen teamwork include: 

1.    Everyone on the team talks an equal amount and conversation flows easily. 
2.    Members of the team employ energetic gestures and lots of eye contact. 
3.    Side conversations between team members are prevalent. 
4.    Communications are between all parties, not just from leaders. 
5.    Team members break away from the team frequently to gather information. 

Often, a small shift in one person’s behavior can result in measurable increases of these elements. To strengthen teamwork in a leadership capacity, take on a true facilitator role in your workplace – primarily listening, empathizing, and drawing out engagement from all attendees. 

3. Recognition

Showcasing accomplishments to peers, leaders, customers, and the company at-large provides a mental touchpoint for what “great” looks like. Consistent recognition of the team helps employees know when they are getting it right. 

Recognitions can be broken down into four main categories, with strong programs leveraging tactics from each type:

Three Critical Ingredients for a Thriving Workplace Culture

  • Celebrations focus on whole teams a few times a year—think holiday parties or annual awards ceremonies. 
  • Distinctions also focus on teams but occur far more frequently, resulting in a feedback loop guiding the most productive behaviors. 
  • Spotlights shine a light on individual contributors who bring out the best in themselves or others.
  • Delights show appreciation for individuals as frequently as possible, encouraging productive behaviors. 

The first step to building the culture that you want to see at your workplace is demystifying the elements that compose it. With a deeper understanding of these three components of culture, you can feel confident that your culture is driving towards the most important behaviors at your organization.